TSA stats for guns in carry on bags

The TSA’s 2019 stats on firearms found in carry on bags are out, and Texas once again has too many airports on the top 10 list.


If you base the top 10 on total number of guns found, Texas has 3 airports on the list, tying Florida’s 3, but with more guns found.

  1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): 323 – an increase of 25 firearms compared to 2018
  2. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): 217
  3. Denver International Airport (DEN): 140
  4. George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH): 138
  5. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX): 132
  6. Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL): 103
  7. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL): 100
  8. Nashville International Airport (BNA): 97
  9. Orlando International Airport (MCO): 96
  10. Tampa International Airport (TPA): 87

This analysis from The Firearm Blog (in the video), uses a “percentage of guns found per passenger” rate calculation that produces a different list, with Dallas’ Love Field, San Antonio and Austin airports making that list. Either way, Texans continue to do a bad job remembering to take guns out of bags before heading to the airport.

I hate the way that TSA defines “loaded” as having ammunition in the gun but an empty chamber. At least they report on how many of the guns were actually loaded, vs. empty-chamber “loaded”.

By TSA’s count, 4,432 firearms were found at airport security checkpoints in 2019. 3,863 of the firearms they found (87%) were “loaded”. 1,507 (34%) of the firearms discovered had a round chambered. That indicates there are still way too many people carrying with an empty chamber.

In last weekend’s Handgun Coach Development class, one of the exercises was for each student in the class to explain, demonstrate and run the class through a drill. One student designed an “empty chamber” drill that required shooters to perform the worst-case scenario of an empty chamber defensive gun use. They were to bring the gun up, attempt to fire, then rack the slide and engage the target with 3 rounds. They were given a par time of 4 seconds to hit the zero-ring of an IDPA target at 5 yards, and those on the line had times from 3.2 to 4.2 seconds for that drill. Re-running the drill starting with a loaded chamber dropped that range of times by more than full second, with everyone completing the drill in under 3 seconds and many under 2 seconds.

There are several examples of failures or near-failures resulting from empty chamber carry on the Active Self Protection youTube channel. Here’s one video showing yet another example of how much slower and complex empty chamber carry is.

For every serious gun owner/concealed carrier that carries with a loaded chamber, in a decent holster or in a way that covers the trigger guard of the pistol, and practices getting the gun out and on target quickly, there are 99 that toss a semiauto, magazine inserted but with a empty chamber, in the pocket of a bag, who never practice, and sometimes forget that their gun is in that bag when they get to the airport. If you know someone in that 99%, please share this post with them and encourage them to do better. My advice to them:


All modern handguns were designed and intended to be carried with a round chambered. Many are only drop safe or safe to carry chambered if a thumb safety is on, or the gun is decocked. Either via formal training or simply reading the user manual, learn enough about your gun to understand how to put your gun in a loaded chamber, drop safe, safe to carry mode. Spend some time in dryfire practice retrieving your gun from the place you carry it, bringing it on target and getting a good first shot hit. Go to a range and (within their operating guidelines), practice that same skill live fire. If you insist on carrying “off body” in a bag, make sure that bag has an actual holster embedded in it, like the Crossbreed modular holsters that can be velcro’ed to just about anything.

Even better, look for opportunities when you can carry (chambered) in a proper belt holster, because getting the gun out and on target is much faster, and you don’t risk leaving the gun bag out of reach, and you don’t risk someone unauthorized getting access to your gun.

Purchase a locking box for your vehicle or find some way to store that is more than “loose in a bag in a locked car”, which is not really secure. When you go to the airport, transfer the gun from wherever you normally carry it, to that locking box, before you leave the parking lot. Then (1) you won’t get busted for having a gun your carry on bag and (2) you’ll be able to re-arm yourself as soon as you get back to your car on your return.

Gun owners that fail to store and transport their guns responsibly, and fail to be adequately prepared for self-defense risk legal problems (getting busted for a gun in a carry on bag at the airport), and risk injury or death in self-defense incidents (failing to be able to get hits on target, or simply access the gun to use as a deterrent, fast enough). In both cases the effort and cost required to do better and reduce those risks is small compared to the consequences of failure.